Illuminating the manipulation behind the nuclear ‘renaissance’

Feature story - 23 May, 2008
Greenpeace lit up central Prague for the past two evenings with giant projected slogans reminding the public, media and energy decision makers about the risks of nuclear power versus the benefits of clean energy. We illuminated Prague; we were also putting a spotlight on delegates at the second European Nuclear Energy Forum.

Greenpeace activists project anti-nuclear slogans from a boat in Prague’s Vltava River during the formal dinner attended by delegates to the European Nuclear Energy Forum.

Taking the public relations spin at face value, you might think nuclear power has put behind it blunders like the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986 and is finally ready to deliver cheap, safe power, overcome climate change and ensure energy security. All together quite a set of claims! But, as Greenpeace highlighted this week in Prague during the second meeting of the European Nuclear Energy Forum, it's only the nuclear industry's propaganda that's been revamped. The technology still can't deliver what's written on the packet and the nuclear industry's ambitions remain as unrealistic as ever. And it's having to rely on a heavily pro-nuclear biased Forum to make its case.

Slogans in the night

Greenpeace lit up central Prague for the past two evenings with giant projected slogans reminding the public, media and energy decision makers about the risks of nuclear power versus the benefits of clean energy. Prague Castle formed the first backdrop for "Nuclear underlines climate protection" and "Energy Revolution NOW!", shone from an industrial-size beamer. The images featured a shattered radiation motif symbolising the chronic flaws in nuclear technology.

Last night, senior politicians and energy bosses attending the Forum's formal dinner were treated to the shattered radiation symbol and the words "Non, merci!". A strange choice, perhaps, for a meeting in Prague - but it addresses the ambitions of the French company AREVA, which is aggressively promoting its fault-ridden European Pressurised Reactor as the supposed 'flagship' of an international nuclear renaissance.

A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum…

The Forum was set up after EU Heads of State and Government in March 2007 endorsed a European Commission proposal "to organise a broad discussion among all relevant stakeholders on the opportunities and risks of nuclear energy". Surprising, then, that Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, each with one seat in a Forum of around 200 people, are the sole invitees from civil society.

"We welcome an open and fair debate on nuclear energy," says Jan Beránek, nuclear energy campaigner from Greenpeace International. "The arguments about cost, safety, energy security and tackling climate change are all in favour of clean energy options."

Open and fair debate? Think again. Bias was apparent from the moment the Forum opened. Its first session offered a privileged position to the CEO of the French nuclear company AREVA to promote the supposedly cheaper and safer 'European Pressurised Reactor' (EPR). You'd be forgiven for thinking that the Forum had become a trade fair for the nuclear lobby.

"What happened in Prague was a mockery of a supposedly open process," says Beránek. "The nuclear industry is arguing for yet more financial support at the expense of safety, transparency and respect for public opinion," he continued. A Eurobarometer survey of public opinion on energy technologies, published in 2007, found that only 20 percent of people in the EU support the use of nuclear power.

Going soft on safety

Away from public scrutiny, the Forum has been considering a proposal to lower nuclear safety standards across Europe to those of the lowest level applied in any Member State. This could place a stranglehold on national authorities wishing to impose stricter safety standards. And by artificially lowering the costs of any future nuclear plants, lenient safety standards would help open the door for an expansion of nuclear power and expose the environment and public safety to greater nuclear risks.

Recent events demonstrate that nuclear power remains as risky and controversial as ever. In Spain, information about a recent leak of radioactive material was kept secret. In Slovakia, construction work is under preparation on the Mochovce nuclear plant, which is based on a design from the 1970s and has no 'containment' in place to deal with external impacts. In Finland and France, construction of the latest generation of French EPR reactors is showing up the serious lack of competence in the nuclear industry on issues as fundamental as pouring the concrete base for the reactors, poor welding and inadequate and sometimes non-existent quality control.


Greenpeace aimed to blunt enthusiasm among Forum delegates for the 'flagship' European Pressurised Reactor by distributing an 'EPR Survival Kit'.

Entitled "Warning: AREVA at work!", the Greenpeace 'EPR Survival Kit' was aimed at those foolhardy enough to overlook the chronic problems affecting current construction of the Finnish and French EPRs compared to the benefits of investing in energy saving and renewable energy.

Brightly coloured and intentionally flippant in tone, the "Survival Kit' summarised the serious problems - ranging from poor quality workmanship and severe delays through to significant cost overruns. The EPR is a modern design of reactor developed and aggressively promoted by the French nuclear company AREVA. It promised cheap and reliable technology but costs in Finland have exploded to over Euro 5 billion and the construction has been riddled with faults.

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